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PARLIAMENT OF RELIGIONS, POPE’S VISIT AND INTER-RELIGIOUS DIALOGUES

“The Christian is not to become a Hindu or Buddhist, nor is a Buddhist or a Hindu to become a Christian. But each must assimilate the spirit of the others and preserve his individuality and grow according to his own law of growth. If the Parliament has shown anything to the world, it is this: It has proved to the world that holiness, purity and charity are not the exclusive possessions of any church in the world, and that every system has produced men and women of the most exalted character. In the face of this evidence, if anybody dreams of the exclusive survival of his own religion and the destruction of the others, I pity him from the bottom of my heart.”  

The above clarion call was given by the great `Hindoo Monk’ in the final session of the Parliament of Religions at Chicago, on September 27, 1893. More than a century has gone since the Lion of Vedanta from India roared in the congregation of the world’s religious leaders and awakened the entire humanity from deep slumber. The intention of the Christian organizers of the Parliament was in fact to proclaim the supremacy of Christianity over all other religions of the world, However, to their utter dismay and disappointment, the super hero of the Parliament turned out to be Swami Vivekananda. The Swami was till then unknown and unheard of among the religious and spiritual leaders who had gathered there, many of them representing well-known and internationally reputed organizations. The Swami represented no religion, no organization and had no credentials, yet he became the spokesman of Mother Bharat whose most ancient and universal message of unity of all religions and universal brotherhood of man was proclaimed at the top of his voice, destroying the dream of those who wanted to thrust their religions or faith on the entire humanity.  

More than a century has gone after that historic Parliament of Religions. Since then, many such Parliaments and inter-religious dialogues have taken place in various parts of the world, but unfortunately all of them have proven themselves to be congregations of hypocrites who give lip sympathy to the cause of a universal and eternal religion of man. The religious leaders congregating in such assemblages are mostly foxes in deer skin, fierce tigers in cow skin, talking aloud about brotherhood of man, inter-religious understanding and unity of faiths, but actually flying to uphold the superiority of their own beliefs, religions and organizations over others. Excepting a few Hindu leaders who are not attached to any particular method of organizational worship, sampradaya or religion, or a pill Millar guru, how many of them are prepared to accept the clarion call of Swami Vivekananda and declare that their followers have got absolute freedom to worship god in any manner they want, that they accept all ways of worship and religious practices as valid ways and means of God-realization and have thrown open the portals of their ashrams or places of worship to people of all religions, communities and spiritual movements?  

Everyone in the Parliaments of Religions and Inter-Religious Congregations speaks about the freedom of man to pursue any faith, but when it is a question of converting others into his own faith, or canvassing for his religion or organization and roping in others into it, he firmly believes that his path is the genuine and sure one to god-realization and he has a right to dissuade others from other paths which must necessarily be wrong, and to bring them to his fold. To say that the Parliaments and Inter-Religious dialogues strive to foster unity among the religions without depriving them of their right to preserve and protect their individuality can never be true unless and until each and every participant in the congregations make a pledge to accept, not merely tolerate, others’ religions and declare that he or she will never criticize or condemn others’ religious or spiritual paths and will never convert anyone from one faith to the other or snatch anyone from one group and bring into another fold.  

A classic example of this hypocrisy is the recent utterances of Pope John Paul II who recently visited India and held an Inter-Religious Congregation in New Delhi. While appreciating the “religious freedom and tolerance” in India, he asked his Bishops to make “ever greater efforts” to spread Christianity across Asia. Ecclesia in Asia hopes that “just as in the first millennium the Cross was planted on the soil of Europe, and in the second on that of the Americas and Africa, we can pray that in the Third Christian Millennium a great harvest of faith will be reaped in this vast and vital continent.” This is an open challenge to the religions of Asia and it has been duly accepted by the International Conference of the Great Religions of Asia in Lumbini, Nepal, immediately after the Pope’s visit to India. Addressing the concluding session of the Asian. Synod of Bishops, the Pope said that the Synod was an “ardent affirmation of faith in Jesus Christ the saviour, and it remains a call to conversion”. But, when it is a question of resistance to conversion by the non-Christians, his advice is “Let the freedom of belief and worship be respected in every part of this continent”! He says, “The church has the deepest respect for these traditions and seeks to engage in sincere dialogue with their followers.” But the dialogue is necessary not because there is need for religious co-existence, but because “the religious values they teach await their fulfillment in Jesus Christ”. In the Second Vatican Council, the status accorded to world religions was that of a means of preparing them for Christ.  

The Pope and the Church may not accept the historical truth that Jesus Christ was a Hindu Yogi as has been proved by the researches of eminent Western and Eastern scholars, saints and historians like Spencer Lewi, G.L. Christie, Louis M. Jacoliot, Paul Brunton, Emile Burnout Nocholas Notovitch, Prof. Roerich, Paramahamsa Yogananda, Swami Abhedananda, Swami Sivananda, Satya Sai Baba and many others, even as Roman Catholic Church never accepted the scientific discoveries of the great scientists like Galilio or Darwin. But truth is truth and the sanatana dharma that is known as Hinduism is the ‘mother of all religions’ as Swami Vivekananda proclaimed in the Parliament of Religions and no religion in the world can swallow the mother Dharama even as rats and mice given shelter by a mountain can never swallow the mountain.  

The International Conference on Great Religions of Asia has given a call to leaders of all religious groups in Asia to come forward and unite under a banner to stop conversions by the proselytizing religions like Christianity and Islam which do not tolerate any other religious faiths or methods of worship other than their own. Now it is time for the leaders of Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Parsee and Jain religions to join hands to defend their faiths from the onslaught of the two aggressive religions. In this, the role .of Hindus and Hindu leaders is most important. It is only Hinduism which can digest all religious schools and thoughts and give them all equal importance and dignified place within the fold of Sanatana Dharrna, for it is not a religion, but a universal way of life.  

Religion as far as a Hindu is concerned, is a matter of personal experience. Each one has a right to follow his or her faith, even to create a new faith or pathway to god-realization or self-realization. There is no means to verify the genuineness of any path except through one’s own personal experience as in the life of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa who found the various paths that he followed as equally valid. To say that one’s faith is genuine or superior and others’ false, that only a particular person is the saviour or ultimately only one particular religion can save, is height of not only ignorance and stupidity, but also of arrogance and aggressiveness which have been the causes of large-scale devastation of cultures and nations and destruction of humanity in the past. Hinduism must put an end to this fanaticism.  

Author: Professor Sadhu Rangarajan

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